Life Still Happens

February 10, 2013

For the most part when I travel I try to stray from the familiar, but every now and then a good old fashioned Starbucks calls to me: where I know exactly what it will smell like inside, what to order, how to order, even what music will be playing. Call me trashy but I need my comforts now and then and I’ve convinced myself, hey, at least it’s not McDonald’s. To this end I found myself on the island of Kauai, sipping my iced grande unsweetened iced coffee (they always say the iced twice), sitting outside the familiar mermaid-emblazoned doorway on a gorgeous Hawaiian afternoon, watching pastel-clad Midwesterners amble past.

One such group included a quietly crying toddler in a stroller – the kind of cry that isn’t whiny or obnoxious, but rather broadcasts fatigue, disorientation and, to my ears, a general discomfort that can’t quite be pinned down to words. I’m sure we’ve all felt it as wee ones and adults: I’m sad; I can’t tell you why, I’m just sad. As the group passed me by I heard the father say to the child, “Oh come on. You can’t cry. You’re in Hawaii. It can’t be that bad.”  Without realizing it, he had put words to precisely the war I had been waging with myself for the duration of my vacation to that point.

It is incredibly hard to be sad in Hawaii, by which I do not mean it’s hard to stay sad in Hawaii, as the expression might insinuate, but rather when you’ve spent ample amounts of time and money to get to one of the more beautiful places on earth, there is a sense that you are not entitled to feel anything but joy. But sometimes the confluence of current events of your particular situation leave you sobbing through resplendent sunrises, time and money be damned.

I had a rough month before I left for vacation: my boss’s kid started chemo, an “It’s Complicated” came to an abrupt end, my cervix was medically violated, an acute SneezeBeast invaded my respiratory system, I injured my calf and couldn’t exercise, I participated in the worst staged reading known to man, and about 24 hours before I got on a plane, my therapist announced that upon my return we would begin seriously digging into the brick wall I seemed to have hit with emotional and physical intimacy. If that doesn’t set one up well for 8 days in paradise, I don’t know what will.

Having landed in Hawaii, I think part of me expected it all to suddenly get better; like the vitamin D would hit me, the exquisite views would take over and the whole mess of the previous 30 days would magically come into focus. I experienced no such divinity. Despite the clean air, rolling surf and spouting whales, for at least the first half of my trip I still found myself covered in tears, trying to process everything I was feeling, unable to gain clarity on any of it, and all the while riddled with guilt and first-world-privileged-person-shame for not frolicking around in happygasms at my great fortune. It was a rapid feedback loop that created a downward spiral of heroic proportions.

Luckily, I happen to be Facebook friends with a phenomenal Buddhist teacher, Josh Korda, who posted the following status right around the time I was hitting rock bottom:

Emotions aren’t always logical, neat, compatible, nor can they be intellectually solved. We can simultaneously fear change and seek it; crave deep connection while trembling at the touch of another. These inconsistencies don’t mean there’s something that needs fixing. We can move forward in life by accepting how we feel right now. What our feelings and desires need most of all is a compassionate witness, a secure base of understanding; not a judge passing a verdict.

Now, when you’ve been in therapy as long as I have, while simultaneously being exposed to various bodywork modalities (yoga, acupuncture, Alexander Technique…) you start to catch yourself thinking ridiculous thoughts like, “all the fear stuck in my psoas is really throwing off my pelvic alignment,” or “there’s just so much sadness in my vagina.”  And then, if you’re me, you debate gouging your own eye out for turning into such a hippy. But It’s hard not to look at psychological or physiological imbalances as problems that can be solved. Fixed.

I think I live in a belief that there is something fundamentally wrong with me, and the overwhelming emotions and clouded confusion I feel would go away if I could just fix whatever the problem is. Oh, and, don’t forget: everyone else has it all figured out and I’m alone in my struggle (not true, but tell that to my Superego). But, of course, the only problem with me is that I have this human brain and human body, both of which are interminably busy processing and rehashing the joys and traumas of 31 years of existence.

What would life be like if I could exit that headspace – stop thinking there was anything on the other side of “fixed”? What’s left if I can hush up judgment and just bear witness?  Beats the shit out of me, but at least being told (via Facebook) that it was ok to watch myself be incredibly sad for a while, even in Hawaii, helped ease the guilt-ridden suffering I had layered on top of the base pain.

Before I left LA to head to Hawaii, I got my first bikini wax (Mazel tov, right? I’m finally an adult…) from a woman who happened to be from Maui, and had just returned the day before. “The problem is,” she told me when we talked about living there permanently, “life still happens, even in Hawaii. People die, people break up with you, you still have to pay bills.” I wish I could have said something like that to this father as he gently berated his child for having the nerve to feel feelings. “You’re in Hawaii. It’s not that bad.” It might be. It might actually be that bad. And then it might not be. And then maybe it will be again. And then it’ll be amazing for a while and then neutral for big chunks of time. Life still happens, even in Hawaii.

If not this shit, then other shit. If not this joy, then other joy. If not this place, then another place.


One comment

  1. Downtime–as in being away from one’s normal (read: hectic) routines–often opens up cracks for thoughts and feelings to creep in that had been previously kept at bay by all that busy-ness. I’ve experienced this in my 63 years on the planet, for what it’s worth. Sure, Hawaii is probably incredibly beautiful and all, but you still bring yourself with you when you go. I have no advice. My wish for you is that you can enjoy what you can when you can, and try not to beat yourself up about “expectations.” Plus, safe travels. love love love, Marcia.

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